Attorney from 'Breaking Bad' captivates lawyers

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Now that "Breaking Bad" has come to its end, fans of the cable television crime drama's bus bench lawyer Saul Goodman can look forward to the character's spinoff show.

Among those fans are a number of Pittsburgh attorneys, who find Saul's antics amusing -- and largely outside the realm of reality. But most agree that when watching TV and movie depictions of lawyers, a sense of humor and a thick skin is required.

The fictional Saul Goodman, played by comedic actor Bob Odenkirk, became a regular character during the second season of "Breaking Bad," when teacher-turned-meth-cook Walter White and his partner and former student Jesse Pinkman needed legal help.

Saul was responsible for introducing Walt and Jesse to meth overlord Gus Fring, his "fixer" Mike Ehrmantrout and several other of the show's most popular and least savory characters. Saul personifies all the sleazy stereotypes about lawyers, complete with flashy billboard ads, sketchy television commercials describing a "one stop shop for all your legal needs," and a catchphrase that is the working title of the the spinoff show: "Better Call Saul!"

Art Stroyd, a partner at Downtown law firm Del Sole, Cavanaugh and Stroyd LLC, finds Saul entertaining. "He makes sleazy seem so believable, it's almost endearing how he bends the rules," Mr. Stroyd said. "But he wouldn't be practicing very long in the real world."

Mr. Stroyd cautioned against calling Saul Goodman a "good" lawyer.

"He's effective at what he does. As bad as Saul may be, it's fun to watch; it's almost like laughing at slapstick. You can't help but laugh. Since it's so extreme, it makes it fun to watch."

Beth Hackney, an attorney at Family Legal Center in Monroeville, isn't quite caught up with all the "Breaking Bad" episodes, but is about halfway through the current season. Saul's role as an advisor to a client who isn't thinking straight in an emotionally-charged setting is a part of the character that resonates for her.

"It's not a coincidence that lawyers are called 'counselor,' because a lot of it is counseling," Ms. Hackney said. "People come in and they're very stressed out, under a lot of pressure, and with a lot of ideas about things they want to do that aren't always good ideas at all.

"A lot of times Saul will say to Walt, 'Are you sure you want to do this?' and then he'll lay out all the options and all the consequences. You don't often see that on TV, so it's kind of cool."

Ms. Hackney said she also appreciates that Saul isn't always the butt of the joke, but provides the comedic relief in a very dark drama.

"I think it's really funny, because there are so many stereotypes and we don't usually see those stereotypes portrayed in such a lighthearted way," she said. "While he does a lot of crazy things, it's funny that Saul is the bright spot in the show."

Criminal defense attorney David Shrager, whose office is Downtown near the county courthouse, hasn't seen the show but says the negative depictions of lawyers, particularly in the specialty that he and Saul share, is pervasive throughout popular culture. He pointed to the scene in the film "Jurassic Park," where an unpleasant lawyer gets devoured by a Tyrannosaurus "and everyone in the audience cheers."

Mr. Shrager said criminal defense lawyers are among the most maligned. "The public has a perception that we manipulate the law to get results that are unjust," he said, which is pretty much Saul Goodman's stock in trade. "Are there attorneys out there who do things incorrectly? Absolutely, the same as with any other profession."

It's up to the good lawyers, who he says are the majority, to fight the public perception that they're all like Saul, Mr. Shrager said. "We have to conduct ourselves ethically, professionally, and maintain honesty with clients and with the court at all times. I may not like what my client did, but it's up to me to defend his rights under the Constitution."

Pittsburgh personal injury attorney Edgar Snyder, who himself advertises heavily on television, hasn't seen "Breaking Bad," even though "everyone keeps telling me I should." But Mr. Snyder is familiar with Saul and his "shtick," and with one of Saul's attributes in particular.

"He stole the finger-point from me!" Mr. Snyder joked, referring to his TV ads where he points at the camera.

"I can't walk down the street in Pittsburgh without someone pointing at me."

While Saul's ads are treated with humor, Mr. Snyder said it wouldn't be possible to run such commercials in Pennsylvania without risking some serious consequences. "You have to be truthful, and you can't boast," he said.

Mr. Snyder said he was among the first attorneys in the region to advertise on television, which has only been allowed since 1979. He knows sometimes a lawyer advertising on TV is seen as unseemly.

"But, most people don't have a lawyer, or have access to a lawyer. When they're seriously injured or in serious trouble, they need to know where they can turn for help."

He said TV's interest in what goes on inside courtrooms stretches back to its early days, with Perry Mason paving the way for other legal dramas. "Most people never have to use a lawyer," Mr. Snyder said. "I think people are fascinated by how legal problems get solved. Courtroom dramas are like a microcosm of life."

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Kim Lyons:, 412-263-1241 or on Twitter @SocialKimLy. First Published September 30, 2013 4:00 AM


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